BRINSTON—Not every family can boast of a business, with such a long history of success as Plante Farm Equipment, which has stayed in the hands of the family that founded it for over 80 years.
The story is a dual account of a family-owned farm equipment dealership and a thriving Ottawa-based dairy, which has even earlier roots stemming from farms in the Casselman area.
According to "Milk/Cream Producer-Distributors in Gloucester," an article compiled by the Gloucester Historical Society, Jean-Baptiste Plante and his wife Matilde ran the Plante Dairy which was located on 2314 Bank Street, Ottawa, north of the present McDonalds Restaurant. The business lasted from 1926 to 1975, with the help of a large extended family. There were seven boys and two girls in the immediate family—Remi, Dorina, Napoleon, Albert, Raoul, Emmanuel, Gerard, Germaine and Ernest. Albert, Ernest and Gerard farmed and Raoul, Emmanuel were drivers who owned their own routes, while several sons and newphews helped. The more customers on each route, the more money the drivers earned.
Milk was transported by horse, express, and sleigh until the advent of trucks. Gerard’s son, Herve (now known as Harvey), remembers going door to door, carrying baskets with milk bottles for customers.
Over the years, the operation grew to include a pasteurization plant and two farms, one in Gloucester and one in South Mountain. Milk from their own farms was processed, in addition to milk from several producer-distributors. Four extensions were added to the pasteurization plant and there were numerous employees.
However, with the expansion of Ottawa and the building of the airport drive, the land was sold to the Campeau Corporation. Albert retired, and Ernest still had the farm in South Mountain.
At age 19, Harvey studied agriculture in Kemptville and the following year, in 1957, he went to work at Albert and Ernest’s farm.
Then he drove for Emmanuel and his son George, and later took the route belonging to Raoul, who was ill. After marrying Anita Thibodeau in the fall of 1960, Harvey returned to work on the farm and in the fall of 1961, Ernest bought the Hulbert farm, where the Thurlers farm is currently located, north of Brinston. Harvey and Anita moved from Ottawa to the farm, where they remained until the fall of 1971. On October 1, 1971, the couple moved to a house at South Mountain, where they established Plante Farm Equipment.
Working out of his house, Harvey sold Silomatic and Coop Fédérée silos, broadening his lines in the spring of 1972 to include Houle Farm Equipment (manure-handling specialists) and Universal Dairy Equipment the following spring. He also added Rupp Snowmobiles which he continued to sell for five years.
July, 1973 marked another turning point as Harvey and Anita purchased a home and business in Brinston, which became the site of the present Plante Farm Equipment business.
Over the years, the Plantes acquired more dealerships, with the addition of Mueller, an American-based bulk cooler company in 1975, the Quebec feeding equipment company Wic in 1975 and ValMetal, a Quebec feed handling company in the early 1980’s. As Plante took on dealerships and hired more employees, he needed to expand and an addition was built in 1977.
The business kept on growing until Plante acquired a dealership with DeLaval, an international dairy equipment supplier, in 1992. Son Paul and daughter-in-law Mandy came on board in 1995. Despite growing health concerns, Harvey continued to run the ship as manager, CEO and salesman until Christmas Eve, 1997, when a heart attack forced his reluctant retirement.
On May 1, 1998, Paul and Mandy bought Plante Farm Equipment, that had expanded its customer base to Highway 138 in the east, Ottawa in the north, the St. Lawrence River in the south, Kingston and Perth in the west.
Paul credits his three major suppliers, DeLaval, Houle and ValMetal for providing state-of-the art equipment.
"If you go by the routes, our growth from 1992 when we acquired DeLaval until now, has been almost ten fold.We pride ourselves that we are associated with the largest and the best in all areas of dairy equipment."
The staff has evolved to 13 full-time members, including sales representatives for DeLaval, Paul and Jim McEwen, Kevin Baldwin who sells Houle and ValMetal, and employees involved in service and installation. Although officially retired, Harvey continues to assist the business he founded.
When asked the family’s secret of success, Paul said, "anytime things are going well, there is usually a variety of reasons. Commitment to service and being associated with the best companies in the industry, and training are all part of it."
In addition to training at the business, the employees train on site and at company head office.
Good routes, programs and service and maintaining a large inventory as well as having a good knowledge of the dairy business also factor in their success.
"Specialization helps. There’s no way you can be an expert in all the lines as well as manage the electrical side," Paul added.
To see the business grow and expand over the years is a source of great pride for founder Harvey.
"I hated to leave something I started, but it feels super to have the business where it is now."